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Japan

Shinkansen

Verified: the Shinkansen is fast.  Got to check that off the bucket list today.  Rode the Japanese bullet train from Misawa to Tokyo.  Mostly we snacked and napped and Zoe read “Ivy and bean” on kindle.  It really didn’t feel super fast, which is nice. Not creepy; but we did a 10-11 hour drive in 2.5 hours.  YES!

Our day didnt’ start so fast.  After an amazingly good nights sleep (complete with a dream about Tom Cruise in that rock opera movie) I woke to two happy kids and a very blue Misawa sky.  We spent an hour on school lessons and then some playground time before taking  a taxi to the train station.  
Misawa is really in a very rural part of Japan.  It’ nice.  It seems liveable and slow.  The view from the train was pretty. It looks a heck of a lot like Korea, but tidy, clean, and matchy-matchy.   As in, the houses look good together.  They have a collective character, not the randomness of Korean building style.  
Tokyo was busy!  It took a bit to find the lockers at Tokyo station where I stashed my backpack.  For this trip I only have my  backpacking pack, and in it a cloth purse/bag for out and about.  So, we stashed the pack at the super-techno Japanese lockers and spent another 10 minutes trying to find the exit from Tokyo station.
From there we walked to the Imperial Palace.  It’s close…about 4 big blocks.  Enroute we stopped at an awesome water fountain park that really perked up the kids to the potential here.  They were grumpy about seeing a garden.
The east garden of the old imperial palace, though, isn’t just a little garden.  It’s a huge FREE attraction with manicured areas, forests, ponds, and the cool old palace walls.  
We started with a stop in the ‘rest room’ for ice cream to sweeten attitudes.  It worked well!  The kids had a fun time running along paths in the woods, counting the koi in the pond, and climbing a tree by the big field.  We took a nice long break in the grass for snacks and Zoe reading.  She is obsessd with Ivy and Bean.  Avi also mistakenly tossed a cheeto to a raven who creepily followed us with his buddy until I insisted the cheeto bag go in my purse. 
The walk back to Tokyo station was much more pleasant as Avi was busy taking pictures.  He loves the camera. 
The local train was surprisingly uncrowded as we made our way toward Yokota air base.  Sadly, base lodging is full as is the Toyoko inn nearby.  So I had to book off base in Tachikawa.  Its like the next suburb over.   Our hotel: the Crest Hotel is shockingly super nice and fancy. Rooms are big for Japan, as is the bed! They even gave the kids a little pack with their own washcloths, cute toothbrushes and slippers.
  Thank goodness its nice because we got lost walking between the train station and here.  My map from the website sucked and I expected a few landmarks that didnt exist.  We made the best of it by getting a great 7-11 dinner.  I had to ask for help twice, and found people quite willing and kind.  Of course, now we are here I see where I went wrong.  Oh well, the kids were excited about seeing all the neon lights and didn’t complain about the walk until just as we got to the hotel. Me?  I’m tired. 
Tomorrow we’ll have to forgo our free breakfast to depart with enough time for the walk, subway and then taxi to base.  I’m hopeful, though, that I will be blogging from Singapore tomorrow night!

Breakfast and school sans shirts

Leaving northern Japan

It’s the famous Shinkansen is very “nosey”
Japanese train station lockers!  This also helped me find our locker again later. 
Cool fountain

East imperial gardens are a hit

The old moat and wall

Avi in his tree

Following the yellow lines (for the blind) in Tokyo. 

Crest Hotel and dinner from 7-11
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taking the risk

We woke early to find a big rainstorm had taken over Korea.  It’s a good day to get out! Except that there wasn’t a taxi in site to take us to the passenge terminal.  I called for 45 minutes before biting the bullet and driving into base, parking in the deck and walking to the terminal.  Its about a mile, and not a big deal outside o rainy days.  I carried Avi the whole way while Zoe walked behind.

We got to the terminal with only 20 minutes to spare.  Lucky for us the roll call had been pushed back those 20 minutes.  
Zoe and i weighed the pros and cons of departing today:  it’s a flight to Misawa with a goal of getting a connecting flight to Butterworth Malaysia…via C-130 (puke machine). They may not even allow us on that flight because its such an odd destination. And, there is rarely anyting else going from Misawa. 
We would rather wait until tomorrow to go to Yokota for the typical following day connecting flight to Singapore.  BUT, the Yokota flight isn’t posting seats available AND the Singapore flight isn’t on the boards.  I expect it will show up, but maybe not.  
So, we took the garunteed risk…Misawa.  I was confident we would get one of the 60 seats, and if that Malaysia flight doesn’t work then we can take the bullet train to Yokota and try for some other destination.
Dont you know that Singapore flight showed up as soon as got to Misawa!  I kept checking the Yokota boards up til the last minute (even ticketed) ready to bale for a day.  Of course, we still would not have necessarily made it on the flight TO Yokota though which would mean missing Singapore.
Now we’ve decided to stay the night in Misawa. I’m not even trying for the C-130  to Malaysia.  The Misawa Inn is quite nice, and I have directions from ITT on how to take the bullet train – Shinkansen – to Tokyo.  There we can subway to Yokota and try for Singapore instead.  With 42 seats available I’m very hopeful!
Instead of being in transit all day as I expected we had a great afternoon at the Base Beach.  It isn’t hot here like Korea, but the beach was fun with black sand and a great playground.  It was on a huge lake so the water was too cool for me, but the kids loved it.  
Dinner came from the comissary; best way to save cash. Early to bed for us.  

Mid-Winter Getaway 1 – Getting away

After waiting two days at Osan, and watching flights slip and disappear, we finally got the next available space-A flight off the ROK.

The day prior, the schedule said showed nothing in the morning, so I scheduled an MRI for my knee (you know,  from my battle with a yeti in the Himalaya) on Wednesday morning. I’d go to that and then we’d try for the flight out in he afternoon.  Well just as I was leaving for my appointment I checked the space-A boards and the afternoon flight was gone!!  Instead it was roll calling at 1040… an hour and a half!!!
We had been packed for days and I was told the appointment would be a half hour, so I went and Bryan showered the kids and finalized the house.  After my preciously- one- half- hour appointment I hopped in a taxi to the base terminal.  Bryan and the kids pulled up right behind me!
Success found us to be the only 4 people chosen to fly in a tiny C-12 from Osan to Yokota.  Avi did not like takeoff – it was rough and bumpy in the little plane. He (we all) soon fell asleep and woke in time to notice passing Mount Fuji!
The lodging in yokota was full so we got food at the BX and walked to a quite nice and reasonably priced hotel of base.  The Toyoko inn.  It had a fun tiny room but a lot of amenities, great breakfast, and cool view from our 10th floor room. 

Japan Trip Day 6

This morning we woke up in our little capsule, and actually slept very well. We grabbed all our junk quietly since the Australian guys came in pretty late (they were quiet) and I didn’t want to wake them up at 8 am =). I packed everything up in the common room and we left the big backpack in storage. The subway was jam packed; it’s the first I’ve seen it as busy as advertised. There were no pushers shoving people into trains, but everyone took it upon themselves to cram in. We rode to the Tsukiji fish market. It’s the famous raw fish market and you’re supposed to get there very early to see it ALL but I just didn’t feel like waking myself and the Zuzz for fish. It was very cool nontheless and I’m not sure it would be any more interesting at 5AM. I suppose the only thing we missed seeing was the actual auctioning, but who cares since we got to see the biggest wharehouse in the world FULL of vendors selling every possible kind of fish or sea product. It was truly incredible, and Zoe really enjoyed it. I could tell all the vendors were about done with their days as it wasn’t too busy and they started to get packing up as we were finished. Many of them were just chatting and got a kick out of Zoe’s interest in fish…a few let her play with the tank bubblers and another group of guys bought her some doughnuts. She was a riot with her ‘thank you’ and they all just laughed. She seems to really attract older ‘grandpa’ aged men and takes to them well. After hanging out with the fish for a couple hours we walked around the block to a Japanese garden that is the detached palace garden and used to be just for the royalty. It was neat, but not as cool as I thought it would be. There was a really neat lake with teahouse in the center and a tree that was 300 years old. It was a large garden so there was lots of open space which is not what I envision in a Japanese garden, though it had all the other aspects and is supposed to be one of the nice ones that the locals really like because of the unique openness. Anyway, the Umi – plum trees were just starting to bloom so that made it all worthwhile. Plus, there was a huge field of bright yellow flox flowers. Gorgeous. Walking in the garden made us both quite hungry so we mosied back to the fish market to the restaurant area for some real Japanese sushi! I had been saving up some of my budget just for this and it turned out to be worth it. There were lots of tiny sushi bars all in these few little alleys…some had long lines out the door that I still don’t quite understand. Prices were no different. We chose one we could sit at right away and I got the ‘economy’ combo plate plus some rice and tamago for Zoe. It was great, and I discovered that Zoe only likes the sushi rice if it’s wrapped in the seaweed; she wouldn’t eat it from the bowl. That is until she chose to dump the fish-egg sushi into the rice. She takes after Bryan and enjoyed the mini fish eggs in her rice. We got on the subway to check out a second Japanese garden and discovered it was closed on Monday…so were 2 museums I was interested in seeing on the last day. I guess Monday it’s more common for things to close. Oh well, they were just ‘if we had time’ and we really didn’t; it would’ve been rushed. We went back to the hostel to pick up our bag and hit the train toward the airport. It took longer than I expected, so it was fortuitous that the garden was closed. Our flight home was uneventful except for the extreme fog here in Seoul; the pilot had to go around on his first landing attempt which was surprising to me since he even announced that the autopilot would be landing. Immigration and customs was super-fast. We even had a nice 1/2 hour before our bus to pick up some KFC for dinner at 10PM. We both slept on the bus ride, so now that we’re home we are kind of awake. I’m fading fast, though. I’ll post pictures soon. What a great trip!

Japan Trip Day 5

Well today felt very busy; being in the city always drains me even if I don’t accomplish much. This morning we woke to a beautiful clear day; slept in until 8ish! Last night was the best night’s sleep yet. Ate some breakfast that we had bought at a grocery store the day before and then got a ride to the train station from the guesthouse manager. The train ride was nice; the scenery was great since it wasn’t raining. In fact we could see a faint Fuji in the distance as we neared Tokyo. Zoe was as good as can be expected and was ready to be off when we arrived. She is hysterical some times and will just out of the blue say, “miss Arlo” or “miss daddy”. We then took the subway to our hostel for the night – The Ace Inn – and got some lunch. After that we again boarded the subway to the Shibuya area where we visited the Tokyo Children’s Hall. It’s a great free kid’s activity center; there are playgrounds and crafts areas and other family activities spread over 5 floors! The reason we went today, though, was for a free kids theater show of ‘The Magic Violin’. It was a full hour and a half with an intermission, but well done enough to keep the kids’ attention…even Zoe. She loved the animals toward the beginnig and kept asking for them to re-appear. Afterwards we spent a few hours in the activities; especially the indoor playground, train toys, and flower crafts! Once she was done we walked over to the famous Shibuya intersection where thousands of people throng across the road; it was crazy. I’m not sure where everyone is coming or going too or if they are all just there to be there? Whatever. It was then off to the Yoyogi park and Meiji shrine. Enroute we passed through the crazy punk-rock kids hangout, but Zuzz had fallen asleep on me so she missed out on the neat costumes. The Meiji shrine was neat enough, but the park it’s in is the best part of visiting. The trees are huge and so old…it makes a deep dark forest right in the city. She did wake up for the shrine and enjoyed walking in the woods where she could kick all the rocks. Our final stop for the evening was the Tokyo Metropolitan Governmen Building where we road up to the top floor for the view. So we watched the sun set over Tokyo and saw all the lights come on. Then, two exhausted girls took the train back to our hostel…via a grocery store for some ramen. We heated it up here in the common room and chilled out watching some TV. Our hostel here is nice; it’s like a capsule hotel. We have our own little wooden compartment with a curtain to pull back over the foot area. It has a little lamp, too. There are a bunch of Australians staying here, so we hung out with them upstairs in the common room for a while. It’s fun hearing what others have done during their visits. Now Zoe is running around the computer area playing with a mini traffic cone and an umbrella; she’s also checking out all the brochures. I think we’ll hit up the shower and then go to bed. I’m beat; something about being so anonymous in such a fast pased place seems to drain me.

Japan Trip Day 4

Nikko!

So we woke this morning in time to pickup some sushi for breakfast at a convenience store enroute to the train station. The walk back to the station was blustery; rain and wind. luckily the storefronts have a covered walkway since our umbrella was about to break. We ate our breakfast waiting for the train and then got in the very front car…we were told if we got in the wrong one it wouldn:t end up in Nikko. The train was empty at first, but then filled the further we came. It was still raining when we arrived, but not to chilly. Whatever…let:s just go was my thinking. We called for a quick ride to our Minshuku – Rindou ie – since they said free pickup, and sure enough a very nice man came with a car and drove us to the house where I dropped the bag. He then drove us to the temples! So it was a bit tough to carry Zoe and an umbrella and try to take pictures, but I made it work. At first I wasn:t too impressed as the first temple seemed like any that I:d seen in Korea which are free, but then we got to the good stuff! Many of the temple / shrine buildings are coated in gold leaf and have amazingly intricate animal carvings. It:s beautiful even in the rain, which did stop about halfway through just after Zoe fell in the mud. We had to take our shoes off to go in many of the places, which got to be kind of cold…but we just pressed on. Zoe wanted held for a while, and I could tell she was sleepy but once you start it:s a long walk back to any stores and they have everything laid out so well for a loop walk. By the final temple / mausoleum the sun actually came out! I was kicking myself for not just getting some lunch and waiting out the rain when we first arrived, but then realized that would:ve been worse since Zoe would then have been sleeping the whole walk. We took the bus (tickets on the loop were included in my `world heritage pass`) back to the info center at the train station so I could as about dinner and some other stuff. We then bussed back to try to walk to a different location along the river now that the sun was out, but Zoe finally fell asleep on me. I was actually kind of thankful since it had gotten colder after the clouds dissipated. I turned around and hit up Skylark for an early 5pm dinner. Skylark is like Japanese Denny:s without the all-the-time breakfast. She slept on the booth seat for an hour while I ate and enjoyed some time to read and not tend to her. When she woke she had some dinner of her own and we walked back to the train station to call the minsuku for a pickup! Our guesthouse is great!! It:s the same price we paid for a dorm room in Tokyo, but we get our own 6 tatatmi mat room, bed, robe, towel, heater, tv, clock, etc…it:s nice and the the owners are great. They offer a traditional Japanese dinner that costs extra. I wanted to try it, but I don:t think Zoe would:ve sat through it; they started promptly at 6:30 and are still in there now at 8:40…the other guests definitely sound like they are having fun though! Anyway, while everyone else was occupied the owner suggested we take our bathroom time. So we had a long shower in the bathhouse style area and then sat in the onsen (hot spring tub) for a while. It felt great and Zoe cried to be done. Now we:re just going to have some snacks and chill out in the room before bed. I:m excited for a 3rd night on a futon on the floor!

Japan Trip Day 3

So this morning we slept in a bit at our hotel in Fuji. I slept pretty well on the floor; the futon is quite comfortable. The pillow, on the other hand were like buckwheat or rice or something not super comfortable. Zoe did good, though she pulled my hair all night. After we checked out we walked around Kawaguchiko for about an hour. Yesterday was certainly THE day to be here for the beautiful weather; today it:s overcast and windy. There is definitely a lack of souvenire shops here. It:s like all the Japanese by for souv:s is speciality foods…fancy little things in boxes or special bags. Our bus ride back to Tokyo was uneventful AND we had the seat to ourselves for the first hour until an old man joined the ride for a bit. After Getting into Tokyo we took the subway to Asakusa so I could buy our tickets for the Nikko train tomorrow. The walk from there to our hotel was a bit long, but not too bad. I dropped the backpack and then we walked around Asakusa….it:s an older neat neighborhood. We walked along a very cool shop area and visited the famous temple and shrine. It:s interesting visited the famous temple and shrine. It:s interesting that the temples here are more of tourist sites than they are for worship. It:s also interesting that they merge Buddhist temples with Shinto shrines. Anyway, it was pretty cool. We did our fortune by rattling a box until a numbered stick came out then matching the stick to a drawer containing a fortune. We then tied it to a stand. Fun. There was a nice garden attached. It didn:t take us as long as I thought to go through the area so we went back to the hotel and checked in. We stayed in a guesthouse called the Taito Ryokan; a very old traditional Japanese home that survived many wars. It was nice though our room lacked a real window and we could hear other guests chatting beside us…not too late thank goodness. After that we took the subway to Ginza; the area of Tokyo I definitely don:t belong too. It:s the fancy `5th ave` section of town. We had to visit a Japanese department store, though, where we saw thousand dollar dogs and cats for sale. Ate dinner in the basement food vendor area. We then visited one of Tokyo:s big toy stores. It was neat, but really not that huge. Finally we got some pictures of the lights and nightlife in the fancy part of town before subwaying back to Asakusa where we belong. It:s certainly the part of town that seems like it would be our style.

Japan Trip Day 2

We woke early this morning to take the subway a few stops away from Jimbocho to Shinjuku. At Shinjuku we walked around and found the long distance bus station for our ride to Fuji! Actually we boarded a bus to a town called Kawaguchi-ko. The bus dropped us directly in front of our hotel at the station! Today was gorgeous!!!!!!!! I could see mount Fuji from the bus only 20 minutes into our ride. It is amazingly large and I`m so glad we came to see it. Zoe and I napped on the bus after the initial excitement wore off. The bus ride was nothing great; urban sprawl for a while until you got to the mountain area. As soon as we got here we dropped our bag at the hotel who would store it until check-in. We then walked down to lake Kawaguchi where we took a fun sightseeing boat ride. Got great views and pictures of the mountain. Zoe loved the giant swan shaped paddle boats everywhere. After that we got some lunch from a grocery store; a quick cheap bento box with rice, tofu, and some pickled sides. We also HAD to buy a precious one dollar banana that Zoe NEEDED. Our adventure continued back at the main Kawaguchi station where we waited for our city bus to the Wind Cave. I almost missed pushing the button for the stop, but luckily the bus driver still let me get off a bit down the road. The cave was really neat and cold. It`s an old lava tube where there are icicles year round and huge chuncks of icew; I guess ancient peoples used it for refrigeration. From there we walked to another cave called the ice cave, but Zoe fell asleep on me enroute. I just hung out in the snack bar lounge area until she woke. When I went to get a ticket, though, they told me it was to difficult of cave for me to take her so I couldn`t go. I was fine with that except that the local bus didn`t come for another hour and a half and it was getting chilly out. We wasted more time in the mini gift shop and then walked to the bus stop…it was about 500 meters and Zoe walked the whole way! It was good she did because it was getting downright cold as the sun faded and wind kicked up. We got to the stop and still had 45 minutes to wait in the little booth. About 15 minutes later the nice man from the ice cave came by with his family in there mini mini van and offered a ride…thank GOD. It was so nice of him. They had two little dogs in the car, too, which was funny as they were the same ones wandering around the gift shop. Anyway, it saved us getting super frozen. We checked into our hotel, and we got an amazing room with a view of Mt. Fuji. It`s a traditional Japanese style tatatmi room with futons to sleep on and a little table with tea waiting for us. The hotel is the Kawaguchiko Station Inn, and is one of the economy hotels…but my splurge for the trip at $42 a night. We booked it up to the bathhouse on the roof to watch the sunset glow on Fuji from the hot tub. We had it to ourselves for a long time. Now we have just finished dinner here at the hotel cafe – spaghetti and cheese toast. I`m not really branching out tonight since I didn`t want to leave the hotel again. We are now going to head downstairs and checkout the lounge where I get a free drink, then back to the room to chill out and watch some Japanese TV in privacy. What a fun day!

Japan Trip Day 1

This morning we dropped off Arlo at a friends house and then booked it over to the bus station. Zoe enjoyed the bus ride to the airport and we both fell asleep. Our flight went very smoothly. We even got our own entire row of 5 seats! So we spread out and napped again for the short 1.5 hours. Getting through immigration and customs was very fast, but our backpack took a while to come through the luggage. After that we visited the tourist info counter to figure out how to get on the train to our hotel. We:re staying at the Sakura Hotel in Jimbocho in one of the dorm rooms. It:s quite nice with only 2 bunks and no one else checked in so far. As soon as I dropped our junk on our bed we walked down to the Imperial Palace. It was getting dark though, so we didn:t spend too long. I just wanted to see it and the moat and take a few pictures.

So far my impression of Tokyo is that I feel like I:m in the US except for all the Japanese people. It:s very much like an American city. On the train into Tokyo we passed through some rural areas and it looked just like Korea. The big differences between here and Korea are that here it is very tidy and clean. It also doesn:t have a sewer smell. Tomorrow Zuzz and I are off to Fuji!

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